Farmers Markets for All

Purchasing weekly produce at the local farmers market should not be a luxury. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts, citizens who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits now have better access to healthy foods and a broader selection of fresh fruits and vegetables than ever before.

According to a press release from the USDA, the 2014 fiscal year harvested $18.8 million in SNAP revenue, which is a 6-fold increase since 2008. Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, Kevin Concannon, applauds this increase and noted the urgency for Americans, including SNAP participants, to have better access to more fruits and vegetables. Now, about 6,400 farm vendors accept SNAP payments compared to 753 in the last five years.

The steep increase is a result of the USDA’s partnership with the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, which recently funded the distribution of electronic payment devices to farmers allowing them to accept SNAP through electronic benefit transfers (EBT). In addition to EBT availability, the USDA also supports a competitive grant program which provides funding for farmers markets that encourage SNAP payments and more nutritious choices for particularly low-income customers. Last month, the availability of $3.3 million in grant funding was announced. And $3.15 million was recently provided to organizations that fund market programs aimed at incentivizing the use of SNAP for fruits and vegetables.

These USDA initiatives not only stress the importance for children and adults in the U.S. to increase their daily intake of fruits and vegetables, but they also boost local economies, back farmers and help fight food deserts. Purchasing groceries at from local vendors strengthens communities and brings consumers one link closer to the produce source. If this much progress in healthy food access was made in just the last few years, imagine how far we can continue to go in the real food movement, decoupling our nation’s dependence on processed foods while making honest, healthy local produce accessible and affordable for all.

Molly Pfeffer, Intern